Time and Tide: Resilience, Adaptation, Art

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: English


Our ability to understand and to respond to climate crises requires input from the arts and humanities. We know that visual artists, writers, and humanities scholars are particularly adept at communicating between science and public, but the arts are also essential partners to the sciences. Art has a critical role to play in adapting to uncertainty and to developing solutions to urgent environmental issues.

This project investigates how one permanent, public art initiative, Time and Tide Bell, has been an impetus for community action on climate change, a centrepiece of science and arts programming, and a catalyst for environmental and socio-economic resilience. The work consists of a number of large cast bronze sculptural bells that have been installed at sites all around the British coast, from Appledore, Devon to Bosta Beach, Lewis. Designed by artist Marcus Vergette with sound engineer Neil Mclauchlan, the action of tidal waves causes the bells to ring in richly sonorous tones, a persistent reminder of changing seas and our connections to them.

Each bell, different in form, position, harmonic tone, and patina (due to water-borne contaminants) has come to reflect the particular identity of its location. To varying degrees, the bells have become part of regional mythos, symbols of climate change and of changing landscapes, focal points for education about biodiversity, and stimuli for health and wellbeing. What they have in common, though, is the way they toll rising sea levels, an inescapably resonant reminder of the impact of climate change on coastal landscapes and coastal livelihoods.

This embedded research will focus on six locations: two in Devon, two in Wales, one in the East Midlands and one in the North West. The Appledore, Devon bell is at the centre of an active community arts group and educational curriculum. The second Devon community, Brixham, will be a test case for new community programming, as its bell will be installed in September of this year. The two bells in Wales (at Cemaes and Aberdyfi) are particularly connected to geology, ancient submerged landscapes, myth and Welsh identity, and industrial heritage. Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire and Morecambe Bay, Lancashire both have unique seascapes and biodiverse marine ecosystems, which feature in active Citizen Science programmes. Both Mablethorpe and Morecambe have been the location of historical and/or recent coastal disasters, and in the case of Morecambe, socio-economic downturn related to tourism and health decline related to poverty and inequality.

This project investigates the ways that the Time and Tide Bell initiative has catalysed these different communities, stimulated discussion and action on environmental, educational, and cultural issues. It will also identify what we can do better. It will test climate change art and 'transitional arts practices': how can these types of art initiatives help communities contend with 'solastalgia', the sense of distress caused by negative and often dramatic change to environments? How can climate change art facilitate the transformation of climate change science into community action? How can we use myth, local history, memory and regional narrative to make threatened and threatening coasts, and their communities more resilient? How can art help us understand more deeply the connections between climate change, marine biodiversity, and human health and wellbeing? And, how might co-creative public events programming, which combines word and image, science and creativity, fact and memory, enhance the transformational potential of public-facing arts?


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